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This 20km stretch of gravel road connecting the town of Pienaars River to the village at Kgomo-Kgomo has earned a name for itself amongst local birders as one of the area's best birding spots and, in the latter part of summer, a warbler stakeout of note.



The location of Zaagkuildrift and the habitat of predominantly Acacia thornveld offers a variety of bushveld species and dry biome specials, notably Crimson-breasted Shrike, Southern Pied Babbler, Acacia Pied Barbet, Ashy Tit, Great Sparrow, Marico Flycatcher, Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Burchell's Starling, Scaly-feathered Finch, Southern Carmine Bee-eater and Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Violet-eared Waxbill and Black-faced Waxbill, and a fascinating variety of warblers such as Common Whitethroat, Thrush Nightingale, Olive-tree Warbler, Icterine Warbler, Marsh Warbler, River Warbler and Barred Wren-Warbler. The floodplain at Kgomo-Kgomo attracts good waterbirds and in wet years Lesser Moorhen, Allen's Gallinule and Greater Painted-snipe can be found. Species commonly found on the plains include Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark, Capped Wheatear, Red-capped Lark and Kittlitz's Plover.



The Zaagkuildrift road runs along the Pienaars River and although the river is mostly out of view, the good riparian habitat serves as the keystone for much of the birding. Along the eastern stretches of the road more open acacia savanna dominates while the confluence of the Apies, Pienaars and Moretele Rivers at Kgomo-Kgomo provides a floodplain with well grazed edges and flooded swampland in the wet season.



Not many facilities exist along the Zaagkuildrift road but the Wolfhuiskraal farm which is situated halfway along the road has basic accommodation and also offers good birding.



Most of the land adjacent to the Zaagkuildrift road is privately owned which, for the most part, restricts birding to the immediate vicinity of the road. That said, birding from the car can be a rewarding experience and with regular stops to get out of the car, one can expect to find 150 species on a typical day.

Starting from the eastern end and working westwards, the road first takes you through open grassland on either side where Northern Black Korhaan is very common and Desert Cisticola display ceaselessly in summer. Rufous-naped Lark is also regular and can be seen calling from conspicuous perches. Between December and March Southern Carmine Bee-eater can usually be found perched in the area. Secretarybird can also occasionally be found here, and in summer Lesser Grey Shrike, Amur Falcon and occasionally the uncommon Red-footed Falcon is seen.

Just about a kilometre along the road there is a dam on the left. Access for birders has to be specially arranged but African Fish-Eagle, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater and various swallows and swifts can often be seen from the road without difficulty. The general area and the next 5km of road that leads through fairly open woodland offers good birding and large Acacias should be checked for Common Whitethroat, Olive-tree Warbler, Icterine Warbler and Barred Wren-Warbler. Other birds typically encountered in this area include Common Scimitarbill, Southern Pied Babbler, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Brubru, Black Cuckoo and Burchell's Starling.

As the road continues westward the vegetation becomes denser, and in this habitat species to look for include Grey-backed Camaroptera, Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, Burnt-necked Eremomela and White-throated Robin-Chat. In good years the attentive birder can be rewarded with Thrush Nightingale calling from some of the very dense thickets.

At the 10km mark from the start of the road a prominent dirt road turns off to the right. Turning right here and left again after a few hundred metres puts you on a road running parallel to the Zaagkuildrift road, and which is particularly good for the special warblers that the area has to offer. Care should be taken when turning off here, as the road can be in poor condition and often impassable after rains.

A little further along the Zaagkuildrift road the green entrance gate to Wolfhuiskraal will be seen on the right. This general area is good for any of the Clamator cuckoos and small seedeaters such as African Firefinch, Violet-eared Waxbill and Black-faced Waxbill can be found feeding on seeding grasses by the road's edge.

The area becomes generally drier as you continue along the road towards Kgomo-Kgomo. Scaly-feathered Finch, Shaft-tailed Whydah and Great Sparrow favour this habitat, the latter often found around local settlements. Also check the cattle seen in the area for Red-billed Oxpecker.

As you approach the village of Kgomo-Kgomo the habitat changes dramatically and the Acacia thornveld gives way to open grassland and Scaly-feathered Finch and Red-breasted Swallow become very common. A large depression on the right holds water in the wet season and sometimes provides good habitat for Greater Painted-snipe. The heavily grazed grassland on the left hosts Capped Wheatear, Kittlitz's Plover, Red-capped Lark and Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark. Less predictably but also reasonably regular is Temminck's Courser.

The road continues past the seasonal floodplain on the left and the village on the right, where Red-headed Finch and Cut-throat Finch can sometimes be seen, until a tarred road turns off to the left. The area around this junction is also particularly good for Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark. Turn onto the tarred road and continue to the bridge from where the seasonal swampland and pools can be scanned. Yellow-billed Stork, Great Egret, African Spoonbill, Squacco Heron and African Jacana are common while the power lines on the right have scores of Blue-cheeked Bee-eater in summer. In very wet seasons the ponds should be scrutinised for Lesser Moorhen, Allen's Gallinule and African Crake. This area is also good for the sought-after Cuckoo Finch, particularly in summer.



Zaagkuildrift and Kgomo-Kgomo are easily reached from Pretoria and since it is a public road no access fee is required. Drive on the N1 north and some 70km north of Pretoria turn left at the Rust de Winter / Pienaarsrivier off-ramp. The road meets the R101 at a T-junction after roughly a kilometre. Turn right here and drive another kilometre before turning left onto the Zaagkuildrift road , which immediately crosses over a railway line.

From Kgomo-Kgomo take the tarred road that leads south, through Makapanstad and ultimately to the Hammanskraal road approximately 35km further at a T-junction. Turn left and continue for approximately 4km until you get to Hammanskraal and the R101. Turn right onto the R101 and after 400m left onto the R101 which will take you back to the N1 again.

Déwald Swanepoel 2007

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